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Wyoming in a Nutshell

By: Randy Tucker

We think of the United State as one homogenous region with state boundaries being largely irrelevant.

In truth, things change dramatically from state to state, not only in hunting and fishing regulations, but in the attitude one state sometimes has for the other.

Thankfully, we’ve had only one civil war fought that involved state’s rights. But differences in how one state views the opinions of another one remains. We still have that little edge of animosity when it comes to the citizens of one state, using the resources of another, especially if those resources involved hunting and fishing.

Wyoming presents an interesting dichotomy on this issue. It is arguably the friendliest state in the union when it comes to helping strangers. Wyomingites are quick to give directions, help someone change a tire, or offer just about any other service.

Wyomingites can also be ruthless when it comes to certain out-of-state hunters or fishermen honing in on their territory.

I’ve never heard anyone complain about Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, or Idaho license plates parked near a favorite fishing hole or hunting camp.

That’s not true in the southwest corner of the state when Utah license plates appear in Sublette, Lincoln, or Sweetwater Counties.

The entire state shares an openly circumspect attitude towards anyone they meet from Colorado or California.

Often, that hesitancy fades quickly if the “pilgrims” (as we call city dwellers) turn out to be friendly people who aren’t here to set the local hicks' minds "right." Wyomingites don’t handle that well; we prefer our own backward ways.

We were out one afternoon in early December, crowded into my friend Dave’s 1969 Ford 150 pickup. It was one of those typical mid-winter days in Albany County, Wyoming.

We set out from the University of Wyoming on a quest for coyotes or cottontails.

In those days, cottontails were a staple food group for my roommate and me along with sage grouse, ducks, geese, and mule deer.

I had my wildly inaccurate Coast-to-Coast .22 bolt action rifle. Dave had a lever-action .22 magnum, a Marlin I think, and Andy, a recent refugee from Connecticut, was packing heavy hardware in his 7mm Remington.

We took the Fox Park road southwest out of Laramie, and at every ranch along the way, there was a sign similar to this, “No Hunting, Property of Longmont Gun Club.” Each ranch had a sign from some outfit from the greater Denver Metro preventing us from hunting.

We found a little BLM (Bureau of Land Management) ground along the road, and Dave took a couple of cottontails with his .22 magnum. We all three missed shots later on a coyote.

This coyote was in full winter coat. In those days, fur was still popular, and a properly skinned coyote pelt could fetch $150 from buyers in Cheyenne.

As we drove on, the sky began to change to that glowing, last-light that makes winter evenings in the Rockies so beautiful.

The country was incredibly gorgeous: pine, fir, and spruce trees sprouted out of the snow.

It was a melancholy moment when a little mule deer buck sprinted across the road in front of us.

Dave hit the brakes, and in the process, we skidded off the right side of the road into about four feet of freshly fallen snow.

The two-wheel-drive Ford was hopelessly stuck. It would be pitch black in 45 minutes. We didn’t even have a shovel, and this road averaged maybe one car every two hours. The prospect of a cold night in the cab of the F-150 became a real possibility.

We started to dig out the truck by hand. Being the invincible 20 and 21-year-olds we were, we hadn’t taken any gloves with us either. Our hands quickly grew numb, but we did get the tailpipe cleared so we could run the truck that night and heat the cab if we had to.

Headlights appeared from the west, glancing off the trees on a far curve.

Improbably, a small, four-yard dump truck came rolling up at a very slow speed.

The truck carried a load of coal.

The driver stopped the truck, got out of the cab, and walked towards us.

The stocky older man didn’t say a word. He just walked up to the rear of the truck, brushed the snow off the back bumper then walked back to his truck.

As he walked by me he said, “There’s a chain in the toolbox on the left.”

I pulled the chain off, wrapped one end around the ball on the truck bumper, and he connected the other end to his truck.

He pulled away in low gear, and the F-150 slid easily out of the predicament and back onto the hardtop highway. It was a lesson in weight and gear ratio.

We unhooked the chain and coiled it back into his toolbox.

He got out of the cab and walked up to us.

Even at our young age, we knew the procedure in Wyoming.

We offered to pay him for his effort, but he refused. Getting paid for a rescue like this isn’t something we do.

“When you first got here, you checked the back of the truck, were you seeing if we had a trailer hitch?” I asked him.

With a laugh, he replied, “No boys, I was checking your license plate. If it was green you’d still be stuck.”

He didn’t care for the green Colorado license plates either.

Our plate had Steamboat, the trademark Wyoming bucking horse with a 3 next to it. We label all our plates from 1 to 23, with each number representing one of our counties.

The 3 was Sheridan County.

“You boys from Sheridan?” the old boy asked.

“No, but close. I’m from Ranchester,” Dave said.

“Ranchester,” the man exclaimed with a gleam. “You know ol’ Bill Thompson?”

My friend did.

“Yeah, his place is down the road from my uncle’s place,” Dave said.

It was Wyoming in a nutshell.

We were out, got back to town before the rabbits were even frozen solid.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at ratucker@wyoming.com.

 
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